Robyn Spangler: Remembering Billy Barnes

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Robyn Spangler

Remembering Billy Barnes

Tom Rolla’s Gardenia, West Hollywood, CA, November 18, 2017

Reviewed by Les Traub for Cabaret Scenes

Robyn Spangler

Robyn Spangler couldn’t have found a more appropriate number to open her Remembering Billy Barnes show than Billy’s own opening number from his Gardenia appearances, “Back at the Gardenia Again.” All the wit and inside references were conveyed nicely by the singer. Barnes created successful revues and wrote special material for just about every variety show on television. He also wrote special night club material for a number of ladies who collectively became known as Billy Barnes’ Divas, some of whom were in the audience. Spangler had access to his archives and has released a CD of his ballads, is producing a documentary on him, and has put together this gem of a cabaret show celebrating his life and work.

A hit song for Barnes, “(Have I Stayed) Too Long at the Fair” began with a very unfamiliar verse and, going into the chorus, Spangler seemed off on the melody. It turns out this was just one example of the extensive research that went into this show. She found an earlier version of the number and sang that as a prelude to the revised version. Her take on the standard “Something Cool” was not the dramatic version of many a cabaret act, but a slow and easy one that worked as well.

A surprise guest was actress/singer Jackie Joseph, an original cast member of the Billy Barnes Revues. She delightfully performed one of the numbers she sang back in the ’50s and ’60s in the revues, “I Love L.A.”

Spangler avoided the tried and true aspects of a biographical show, a chronological selection of material: “And then he wrote…” Instead, she sketched the facts of his life and provided a deeper look into the man.

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The material showcased his versatility and her love for and deep understanding of the material.

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“The Other One,” referring to a mistress, is a haunting number, given a spot-on interpretation.

Music director Todd Schroeder brilliantly arranged the repertoire. A delicious example came at the end, when Spangler performed “Wonderful World Full of Love” written for Julie Andrews to sing at the opening of Disneyworld, used as a countermelody to “It’s a Small World.” The weaving of the two songs ended the night on a high, fun note. 

Les Traub

Les Traub has been covering the cabaret scene for over twenty years. He is a co-founder and President of Cabaret West and has produced cabaret shows at the Jazz Bakery, Cinegrill, Gardenia, El Portal Theatre, Pasadena Playhouse and at UCLA. He co-produced and wrote a Sammy Cahn tribute show at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. He is Chairman of the Board of Musical Theatre Guild, where he co- produced Sail Away, High Spirits, Little Mary Sunshine and Street Scene at the Alex Theatre. He has lectured on cabaret in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Connecticut. .